Milton Keynes, the ‘New City’, is celebrating 50 years this year, with a range of celebrations all summer long.
Initially created as a commuter town to ease the housing congestion in London, Milton Keynes has grown in leaps and bounds over the years and come into her own. I recall moving to MK in 2003, dragging my feet, kicking and screaming; a big city girl at heart born and raised in Istanbul, then finding my feet and freedom in London, the idea of living in a suburban town was unimaginable – and a mono-cultured town.
Over the last 14 years I have come to see Milton Keynes population not only grow but also diversify. While still way behind London in terms of ethnic minority, the last decade has seen MK welcome a range of ethnically diverse people.
According to 2011 census, the ethnic group categories makeup of Milton Keynes is: 78.4% White, 8.7% South Asian, 7.5% Black, 3.5% Mixed Race, 1.2% Chinese and other Asian, and 0.7% other ethnic groups. And if one needed further proof that Milton Keynes is fast becoming an exciting New City of cultural diversity, this summer’s 50th birthday celebrations were it.
On the second weekend in July, Campbell Park, one of the central parklands in the city, played host to MK Mela organised by the Milton Keynes Hindu Association, a belated Holi Festival bringing together not only the Hindu community of the city but also everyone else looking for a fun party.
An ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia, Holi Festival of Colour has also spread toto parts of Europe and North America in recent years as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colours.
Attending my first ‘Mela’ (‘gathering’ or ‘to meet’ or a ‘fair’ in Sanskrit) and Festival of Colour, I was fascinated by all the fun, good humour and great energy. Watching the faces people of different colours, creeds and races light up in laughter and joy as they showered each other with coloured powder, dancing to the infectious Bhangra beat, children chasing each other around the park, water pistols in hand, covered in a rainbow of colours, blasting each other with bubbles, it is easy to see how we are one and the same, irrespective of what language we speak or which God we pray to. For an afternoon under the unexpectedly scorching British sun, we were all rainbow coloured, we all spoke the language of fun and danced to the rhythm of joy.
Leaving the park, covered in red, gold and pink, I felt drunk on joy and the heat of the summer sun, with a sense of community stronger than I have ever felt before in Milton Keynes, seeing people of different ethnicities come together in celebration.
I am already looking forward to next year’s MK Mela.